From the 1930s through the 1950s, the finest 35mm cameras had built-in rangefinders to take the guesswork out of focusing. But during the 1950s, manufacturers began to introduce 35mm single-lens-reflex (SLR) cameras. The Germans built leaf-shutter SLRs, including Kodak with its 1953 Retina Reflex. Kodak kept improving that basic camera over the next 14 years before getting out of the SLR business. The 1960-64 Kodak Retina Reflex III was the third, and next to last, of the line.

Kodak Retina Reflex III

The Reflex III, which the Retina cognoscenti also know as the Type 041, came with one of several 50mm lenses. Mine features the f/1.9 Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenon lens, which focuses to 3 feet. This is an interchangeable lens camera; twist counterclockwise and the lens comes right off. Eight different Schneider-Kreuznach lenses were available, ranging from 28mm to 200mm. Six different Rodenstock lenses were also available, ranging from 30mm to 135mm.

Kodak Retina Reflex III

All Reflex IIIs use a Synchro-Compur shutter that operates from 1 to 1/500 sec. That’s pretty speedy for a leaf shutter. It syncs to flashes via a cable, either M or X sync.

The Reflex III lets you set film ASA from a surprisingly slow 5 ASA to a surprisingly fast 1600 ASA. To set ASA, push up the little thumb lever on the camera back below the ASA/DIN dial that’s on top of the camera, and then turn the knurled setting wheel on the bottom of the aperture/shutter-speed rings until the arrow points to the ASA you want.

Kodak Retina Reflex III

The top plate is remarkably free of controls beyond that ASA setting and a film type reminder on the rewind knob. The shutter button is on the camera’s front. The winder and film counter are on the bottom.

Kodak Retina Reflex III

It’s not obvious how you use this camera, so let me share what I’ve learned. Before you take the first picture, set the film counter. Don’t forget, because when it counts down to zero, the shutter won’t fire. There’s a little slide control near the winder; push it repeatedly in the direction of the arrow until it shows the number of frames on your roll.

To open the camera to load film, twist the control around the tripod socket clockwise to reveal a little chrome button. Push it and the back pops open.

The winder is on the bottom, too. Winding the film cocks the shutter. To rewind, press the little button that’s in the crook of the winder arm and twist the rewind knob on the top plate.

To set exposure, first choose the shutter speed you want by turning the shutter-speed ring on the lens barrel. Then turn the knurled setting wheel until the aperture you want lines up with the shutter speed. If you then change the shutter speed the aperture changes with it, maintaining the chosen exposure. For example, if you set 1/60 sec. at f/8, then turn the shutter-speed ring to 1/125 sec., the aperture shifts to f/5.6. As you do this, two red pips on the focus scale move to show you the depth of field you will get. It’s a neat little system, really.

There’s one last way this camera doesn’t follow the modern SLR idiom. The mirror doesn’t return after you fire the shutter, leaving the viewfinder black. The mirror returns only when you wind to the next frame.

This complex machine is also “whoa, that’s heavy” heavy. It was also startlingly expensive in its day: $248.50 USD, which is equivalent to more than $2,000 today.

You’ll find Retina Reflex IIIs with two different meters on its face, one slightly smaller than the other. The smaller one is on Reflex IIIs from before 1962. Mine has the larger meter. Both meters were made by Gossen, and if you look carefully at the plastic cover you can see Gossen’s name in it.

If you like Kodak Retinas, by the way, I’ve reviewed several: a Ia (here), a IIa (here), a IIc (here), and a Reflex IV (here). I’ve also reviewed a Retinette IA (here) and a Retinette II (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I loaded a roll of Arista EDU 200 into the Retina Reflex III and started shooting. (I developed the roll in Rodinal 1+50 and scanned the negatives on my Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II.) For the majority of shots I left the shutter speed at 1/250 and used Sunny 16 to guess aperture. For the rest I set exposure based on what my phone’s light-meter app reported.

Stained glass

My Retina Reflex III was well used by its original owner, who was my sister-in-law’s father. It came to me with several issues. The ASA setting mechanism on my Retina III may be broken — turning the knurled knob moves both the scale and the selector, at different rates. But the meter is dead in mine, too, rendering that problem moot.


The coupled aperture-shutter speed setting doesn’t work properly on this camera, either. If I choose 1/500 sec. at f/1.9, and then twist the shutter-speed ring until I reach the minimum aperture of f/22, and then twist the shutter-speed ring back until the aperture is f/1.9 again, my shutter speed is only 1/125 sec. It should go right back to 1/500.


Sometimes after shooting and winding, the aperture blades closed all the way, blocking the viewfinder. I found that releasing the winding lever very slowly often prevented this. When it didn’t, I had no choice but to fire the shutter and wind again. Toward the end of the roll I realized that the camera was probably still making an exposure, so I tried just pointing the camera toward a subject to see what turned out. This is one of those photos.


Finally, the focusing ring is stiff, so stiff that I had to be careful in twisting it not to twist the lens off the camera. Focusing was slow going. Of all of this camera’s faults, this is the only one that tried my patience.


But after I did the hokey-pokey to set exposure and focus, the Schneider-Kreuznach lens went to work and delivered well.

VW and license plate

I shouldn’t be surprised; I’ve yet to meet a Schneider-Kreuznach lens I didn’t like. Unfortunately, shooting this camera was more frustrating than rewarding.

Tree shadow

See more from this camera in my Kodak Retina Reflex III gallery.

During the 1960s, rangefinder cameras declined sharply in popularity as the SLR took over. The Japanese found the right formula, starting with focal-plane shutters to open up top speeds of 1/1,000, 1/2,000, and even 1/8,000 sec. Their cameras were generally lighter and less complex. They were easier to use and felt good in the hand. Kodak decided not to change with the times, instead exiting the SLR business with the last Retina Reflex IVs in 1967. Kodak leaned hard into its Instamatic cameras and didn’t look back.

I’m not looking back at this Kodak Retina Reflex III, either. It simply has too many issues. But I’m sure that when it was new, once its original owner got the hang of it, he made scads of lovely images with it.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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12 responses to “Kodak Retina Reflex III”

  1. Edwin Peter Paar Avatar
    Edwin Peter Paar

    Unlike earlier Retinas both the Schneider-Kreuznach and the Rodenstock lenses can be used on the Reflex III. These lenses were developed for the last Retina rangefinder – the IIIS. The can also be used on the Reflex S and IV. This is possible because the shutter is behind the lens rather than in the middle.
    Also, most reflex cameras made outside of Japan in the 1960’s did not have instant return mirrors. I do not know whether this was due to patent restraints or a stubborn resistance to change!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks for the correction – I deleted the inaccurate sentence about the lenses!

      Japan set the SLR idiom that the world came to embrace. It’s a good idiom!

  2. Marc Beebe Avatar

    Uh, I think you’ll find Ihagee invented the 35mm SLR as the world came to know it. That was the famous Exakta/Exacta (they used both spellings). Focal plane shutter from 12 seconds to 1/1000, made in Germany, and first showing up in the 1930s. The Japanese did their usual thing and copied what had already been done, making improvements based on user input and getting the cost down. We all recognize this with the Canon & Nikon copies of Contax & Leica, but because there was no direct Exakta copy we miss that much of its design was simply transported to Japanese SLRs.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I have to just accept you’re right – I’ve not encountered an Exakta yet to know for myself!

      1. Marc Beebe Avatar

        Oh my! You have missed out. I used an Exacta V for years and years. Also had a Kine Exakta (the original model) and an Exa which was a ‘reduced’ version. Wonderful cameras.

  3. […] my word on the Retina Reflex III, you can check out the reviews by other awesome camera reviewers! Down the Road – Kodak Retina Reflex III Review Last Best Photography – Kodak Retina Reflex III Review Simon Hawketts’ Photo Blog […]

  4. Olivia Newton-John Avatar
    Olivia Newton-John

    Withs dagum fancy smancy!!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      If you say so!

  5. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    Whoops, I think you mean when you have the shutter/aperture set at 1/60th and f/8, when you turn it up to 1/125th, the aperture goes down to f/5.6 maintaining the EV, or exposure value, or actual light intensity hitting the film! For some reason, the euro camera community was pushing the EV system after WWII; and a lot of the euro light-meters read out EV as well, like the Gossens. Some of the meters read out in EV numbers, which you set on the camera, then you set the shutter/aperture combo you wanted…seemed way more confusing than reading out in stops and speed!

    My Hasselbld 500 C lenses, you had to pull back on a little flag to unlock the shutter speeds from the f/stops. The Hasselblad CF lenses did away with this, and if you wanted to move one and maintain the EV, you pushed down on a black square button to lock them, the minute you let the button up, they were unlocked again. Nobody was using EV.

    BTW, back in the 60’s, I saw a ton of slides from both the Retina SLR’s and the rangefinders, and the results were always pretty stunning. German lenses!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks for catching my error – I corrected it! I don’t mind the EV system that much. My Retina IIc uses it. The light meter app on my phone includes an EV output, so it’s easy to set that Retina.

      I’ve never shot slides with a Retina, maybe I should try it!

  6. Tim Avatar

    Can’t get the shutter to release. Seems locked. Retina Reflex III.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      These are delicate cameras prone to failure.

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